How in "Much Ado About Nothing" does Shakespeare create dramatic tension?

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Shreena Soomarah 6BPE                                                         Shakespeare Coursework

How in “Much Ado About Nothing” does Shakespeare create dramatic tension?

“Much Ado About Nothing” is a romantic comedy and conventionally these involve characters whose amorous bliss is disturbed by an unanticipated threat.  However this danger is short-lived and their happy fate is fulfilled.  Shakespeare sets about adding interest and diversity to what otherwise could have been a monotonous series of events with the creation of dramatic tension and comedy through the use of various dramatic devices.  

One main plotline which provokes a lot of dramatic tension is Don John’s malicious attempt to “cross [Claudio] any way”, something which he chooses to do through the soiling of Hero’s name.  Act II Scene I proves to be a preview of the impending potential danger of Hero and Claudio’s relationship. The fact that Shakespeare allows Claudio to think that Borachio and Don John are taking to Benedick, and therefore that what he hears must be true, would indeed lead to a sense of uneasiness among the audience on hearing Claudio’s words of “’tis certain so; the Prince woos for himself”.  The audience would feel a sense of tension from the idea that the love of this couple could be jeopardised so early on.  However, this incident and Claudio’s readiness to be untrusting of Hero merely serves as an echo for Don John’s next accusation, which brings about more calamitous outcomes.

Tension is heightened further once Don John’s first plan to ruin Hero’s relationship with Claudio at the masquerade ball goes awry and he becomes more determined as he is filled with “displeasure to [Claudio] and whatsoever comes athwart his affections comes evenly to [Don John]”.    As Shakespeare places this threat so early on in the play, this adds a certain sense of inevitability to the following episodes of the play. When we learn of Don John’s allegation the fact that we know that Hero is innocent of promiscuity fills us with the desire for Don Pedro and Claudio to discover the truth also. Nevertheless they are so gullible to the villain‘s lie that “the lady is disloyal” that we fear Don John may succeed in his malevolence, a fear that is heightened by the progressively bad sense created by the juxtaposition of the following four scenes.

Dramatic tension is also created via postponement and humour with Shakespeare’s inclusion of Dogberry and the Watch, whose haphazard manner of law enforcement reflects that the play is a comedy, something that may have been forgotten during the intense atmosphere of Act III Scene II.  However, Dogberry never realises that he and the Watch become painfully close to the key of all of the false accusations made in “Much Ado About Nothing”.  As Shakespeare chooses for us to hear their misinformed reactions along with the truth from Borachio, this means that as Don Pedro and Claudio are pushed further away from the truth, the tricks have worked and therefore the audience’s anxiety grows.  The watch, however, believe that all of the malice was caused at the hands of a being named “Deformed”.  There are clear links between this character and Don John who apart from being the mastermind of the misdemeanours, is also “a bastard”.  

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Postponement is again evident in the roundabout way in which Dogberry informs Leonato of their findings in the next scene.  We are made to feel empathetically frustrated as Leonato states “I would fain know what you have to say…I am now in great haste, as it may appear unto you”.   Leonato’s hastiness is partially the reason why he fails to hear what would spare Hero’s humiliation, and thus becomes susceptible to Claudio’s words of slander.  Tension comes with this burning opportunity for the truth that Leonato blindly misses, giving the events at the wedding scene even more poignancy. This ...

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